The United States has always prided itself as a place of equality, a place where a person could arrive, regardless of his or her background, work hard and make an economically sound life for him or herself and family.
Indeed, equality and social mobility comprise a huge part of the “American Dream” and contribute heavily to the allure America has to immigrants. Yet this is not so anymore. Studies have shown that inequality in the United States is growing.
Corresponding with this increase in inequality is an increase in between the rungs of the social ladder. It is becoming harder for people to move up and down the social ladder, thus resulting in less social mobility.
Despite the recession, we are one of the richest countries in the world. However, the poverty rate has climbed to its highest point in 15 years, with an astounding 43.6 million Americans in 2009 (a rate of 14.3 percent) living below the poverty line of $22,050 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.
Some critics will point to that rate and talk about the recession, or claim that poor families are having more children than well-off families, skewing the statistics. But this does not diminish the fact that nearly 44 million Americans are living in poverty, and 77 percent are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2009 survey by CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive.
The middle class is rapidly shrinking, and the wealthy are only getting wealthier. We must act to balance out this inequality to maintain the “American Dream” of equality, however dim it may be now.
Too much inequality leads to a larger poor majority with little hope of ever advancing and making a better life for themselves. A small affluent minority would hold enormous power and wealth would transfer down through rich families.
In essence, if income inequality is allowed to grow even more, those unfortunate enough to be born into a poor family will have little hope of ever making a better life for themselves. Those born into a rich family would inherit financial prosperity and leverage based on the sheer lucky stroke that they were born into a rich family.
This goes against the American ideal that you can change your lot in life no matter the situation you were born into. If allowed to go unchecked, income inequality could lead to old European-style serfdom where a larger, heavily poor working class has little chance of progressing while the “nobility”, the very wealthy, maintain their wealth and power.
The top one percent of Americans now make up about 24 percent of the national income, according to a 2009 report by Emmanuel Saez using 2007 estimates. That’s nearly one-fourth of the national income fostered in a relatively small group of Americans. This disparity in income is staggering.
There will always be inequality when it comes to income and it would be foolish to think otherwise. Inequality in its current state in the United States must be dealt with, or the country risks the chance of being divided into those who have obscene amounts of wealth and those who labor fruitlessly with little hope of advancing. I am not advocating radical, Marxist income redistribution, but something must be done to combat the rising inequality and poverty in this country. Income inequality is one of the problems facing America in the 21st Century, and the growing number of those living in poverty reflects that trend.
Jordan Rubio is a freshman broadcast journalism major from San Antonio.